Lace is a decorative fabric that consists of an open, netlike pattern of threads. The finest lace is made of linen thread, but cotton, silk, wool, manufactured fibers, and even threads of gold and silver are also used. The design on most types of lace consists of patterns of flowers or leaves. Other designs feature animals, human figures, or such objects as columns and scrolls. Lace is used mainly to decorate clothing and to make ornamental items for homes and churches.
Most lace is made by machine, but the fabric was originally made by hand. Handmade lace is classified according to the way it is made. The two main types are needlepoint lace and bobbin lace. In making needlepoint lace, the lacemaker draws the design on parchment and sews it on a linen backing. Then he or she uses a needle and thread to fill in the pattern with embroidery stitches. For bobbin lace, the design is drawn on parchment attached to a pillow. To make the lace, the lacemaker uses many bobbins of thread. The thread is worked around small pins that are stuck into the pillow along the lines of the design.
Lace can also be made in a number of other ways. For example, knotted threads are used in making a kind of lace called tatting. Techniques similar to those used in knitting are involved in creating crochet lace. Tambour lace is made by embroidering designs on netting. Lacemakers stitch pieces of muslin on netting to make applique lace.
Most handmade laces were named for the place where they were first made. One famous kind of needlepoint lace is Alencon, made in Alencon, France. Other outstanding needlepoint laces are Argentan, Brussels, and Venetian. Well-known bobbin laces include Chantilly, Mechlin, and Valenciennes, all named for cities in Belgium and France.
The art of lacemaking developed in Europe during the 1500's. Italy and Belgium were the chief centers of early lacemaking. During the early 1800's, British inventors developed the bobbin net machine. This machine became the basis for many of the machines used today in making lace.